By Matie Kropf
This year’s Diversity Lecture Series ended with Lisa Shannon, author of A Thousand Sisters, my journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman, released last year, and activist for the current and ongoing crisis in the Congo.
Chris Arnold, the director of the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center, opened the lecture.
“This is the sixteenth year of the diversity lecture series at GRCC and we’re really proud of our history of offering diverse voices to help engage our community,” Arnold said.
Four every five minutes.
That is the number of women raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.
After a ten-minute segment on Oprah about the atrocities in the Congo, Shannon could no longer sit idly by.
“What I learned that day in that ten-minute segment changed my life,” Shannon said.
She began her efforts to help the women in the Congo by working with an already established organization called Women for Women International. Through them she was able to sponsor two women who received a comprehensive education program.
In addition to the education, woman also received letters from their sponsors.
It wasn’t until Shannon traveled to the Congo herself and met with these women that she realized that, yes money is important, but the letters make the difference.
“When 5.4 million people are dying and no one is even talking about it, we are sending a powerful message that we consider these people less than human,” Shannon said.
Shannon emphasized the importance to these woman to feel seen or known, those letters they receive give them that.
After helping those two women, Shannon wanted to do more. She began talking to her friends and people she knew, but no one seemed to understand her passion or even care about the situation these woman and children are in.
How could she rally people to help her raise money and awareness for the crisis in the Congo, if no one knew or cared?
That is when Shannon decided to put together a 30-mile run for the Congo.
She quietly trained for four months and at the end of the first run she has raised $28,000 to sponsor dozens more women through Women for Women International.
Still an obstacle Shannon was facing in her continued efforts though was the fact that so many people were completely oblivious to what was happening in the Congo.
Shannon asked herself where is the news coverage of this?
It was a random conversation with an Associated Press journalist in London that sparked her journey to the “heart of darkness”.
The journalist told her it was “a conscious decision by the Associated Press to not cover the Congo because it is widely understood that Americans don’t have room in their psyche for more than one international conflict.”
That was it, Shannon was on her way to the Congo to get the news to the American public.
“It was disorienting,” Shannon said.
It wasn’t until she looked backed that she can even point out when it was dangerous, when she was there it was just disorienting.
The first word Shannon learned in Swahili was furarha; it means joy.
Almost all the women Shannon talked with had lived through the death of a child, a family member, and a violent attack on their home. She even visited a village where over 90 percent of the woman had been raped.
Shannon emphasized though that when you give a woman money, she reinvests it into the community through education and other means; Shannon saw that in action in the communities she went.
The next question Shannon had to ask herself though was, what stories do I tell? What is too much, what will make the public shut down instead of spark interest to help?
She decided to take a book approach rather than a film, although she had over 700 hours of film.
While writing the book, she had to face, not the questions she had asked, but the questions she had never asked. She had failed to ask that questions that really personalized the stories of the women, names of loved ones they had lost, thing outside the war that were important to them.
Since, Shannon has been on a number of other trips back to the Congo.
On the home front Shannon also worked to end the problems that caused the crisis.
When the violent perpetrators of genocides decided to begin their wars they weigh out the factors and see that there is a profit in the conflict for them.
Conflict minerals are the profit in the crisis in the Congo.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the richest nations in the world in minerals used for electronics, so when legislation was working its way through congress to help end this, lobbyist from big name IT companies like Intel and Hewlett-Packard and jewelry companies were working against the bill.
Shannon found put that the legislation would end up costing the company 1 penny per product. To her these companies were essentially saying that the lives of women and children were not worth a penny.
With thousands of pennies representing the lives of the people lost in the Congo and who continue to die every day, Shannon and a few other supporters traveled to all the big name companies lobbying against the bill and had signs that read, “We’ll pay the extra penny, her life is worth it.”
The bill ended up passing with full teeth and it was this series of protests that landed Shannon on National Public Radio for the Morning Edition and in the New York Times.
As of a few months ago, the run that she did for the Congo had spread and runs are now happening annually all over the nation, from Portland to New York. Over 6,000 participants have raised over a million dollars and sent more than 1,500 women to school in the Congo.
Shannon also was on the fall, 2009 list of most powerful people according to Oprah.
“The moments we are staking out our power are the moments we feel most powerless,” Shannon said.
As a result of this, Shannon raised over six million dollars in a week.
Everything came for circle last fall when Shannon organized a run for the Congo in the Congo.
It was a one-mile solidarity run that occurred around the world.
Participants ran not only in the Congo, but in the United States and Europe as well.
“It was probably the best day of my life,” Shannon said.